Innovations in Sustainable Consumption

Innovations in Sustainable Consumption

New Economics, Socio-technical Transitions and Social Practices

Advances in Ecological Economics series

Edited by Maurie J. Cohen, Halina Szejnwald Brown and Philip J. Vergragt

This timely volume recognizes that traditional policy approaches to reduce human impacts on the environment through technological change – for example, emphasizing resource efficiency and the development of renewable energy sources – are insufficient to meet the most pressing sustainability challenges of the twenty-first century. Instead, the editors and contributors argue that we must fundamentally reconfigure our lifestyles and social institutions if we are to make the transition toward a truly sustainable future.

Chapter 6: The dual challenge of sustainability transitions: different trajectories and criteria

René Kemp and Harro van Lente

Subjects: environment, ecological economics


The notion of sustainability transition was introduced as a response to major socio-economic challenges including depletion of certain critical natural resources and global climate change. The idea is that systems of transportation, agriculture and energy have to be superseded by other systems. Such encompassing transitions have occurred in the past, such as the shift from sailing boats to steamships during the nineteenth century, the shift toward individual, motorized mobility from 1890 to 1960/1970 and the change from coal to natural gas for space heating after World War II. And thus, the argument goes, they are likely to happen again. Such systemic changes have been studied by evolutionary researchers, historians and other scholars in the fields of science, technology and society. Frameworks such as the multi-level perspective (MLP) and strategic niche management (SNM) highlight both the persistence of incumbent regimes, as well as their vulnerability. The guiding assumption is that it is possible – based on an understanding of the systemic and dynamic properties of existing and emerging systems – to guide or actively encourage a transition from the current to a new system (Rotmans et al., 2001; Rotmans and Loorbach, 2009). To do so will be a major challenge that goes well beyond the capability of governments and individual actors.

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